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Like Cyanotypes, Anthotypes (based on flower and other plant material ) were made real by Herschel.

Processes are described in alternative photography -a real gem of a site if you want to explore a wide range of photographic processes, even in this digital age (probably now even more necessary).

As a teacher, I found cyanotypes and anthotypes particularly helpful as they don’t onvolve harmful chemicals, so are quite safe for children to use (the teacher may have to prepare the ‘blue’ cyanotype paper though). The rest just utilises the sun and water.

Anthotypes are a beautiful way to create fine art images right from your garden. This long neglected process, originally invented by Sir William Herschel in 1842, is simple yet elegant. An emulsion is made from crushed flower petals or any other light-sensitive plant, fruit or vegetable. A coated sheet of paper is then dried, exposed to direct full sun-light until the image is bleached out. This is done ideally in a printing frame over 1-3 days or more depending on conditions and negative/material. What you see is what you get. No fixation is required. You can follow the gradually emerging image as you go. Results vary greatly from plant to plant and the strength of the emulsion employed. The resulting images are quite timeless,but certainly reminds you of the beauty of subtlety in tone.

The Anthotype process is a great way to make images, as long as you are patient,  and is certainly the most environmentally-friendly.


The photo-sensitive properties of plants and vegetables have been known to scholars for centuries. Among many early observations the experiments of Henri August Vogel in Paris are of particular interest. He found in 1816:

An alcoholic tincture of either red carnations, violets or corn poppy turned white behind blue glass in a few days, while it remained unchanged behind red glass after about the same time. Cotton and paper coloured with these tinctures showed the same differences.

When Herschel later that century attempted to invent a colour process he tried several flower and plant emulsions and published his findings. His research resulted in what we now refer to as the Anthotype process. It should be pointed out that his research into making photographic images from flowers was limited and was ultimately abandoned since no commercial application was feasible from a process which takes days to produce an image. The process continued to be listed in photographic the literature of the time but was likely little used.

How it works

I could not phrase it better than Snelling’s description which follows:
“From an examination of the researches of Sir John Herschel on the coloring matter of plants, it will be seen that the action of the sun’s rays is to destroy the colour, effecting a sort of chromatic analysis, in which two distinct elements of color are separated, by destroying the one and leaving the other outstanding. The action is confined within the visible spectrum, and thus a broad distinction is exhibited between the action of the sun’s rays on vegetable juices and on argentine compounds, the latter being most sensibly affected by the invisible rays beyond the violet.
It may also be observed, that the rays effective in destroying a given tint, are in a great many cases, those whose union produces a color complementary to the tint destroyed, or, at least, one belonging to that class of colors to which such complementary tint may be preferred. For instance, yellows tending towards orange are destroyed with more energy by the blue rays; blues by the red, orange and yellow rays; purples and pinks by yellow and green rays.”

– Henry H. Snelling

The method

1. Start with any flower you like although the following seem to work well: Poppies (images below were made with the red poppies above) or Peonies (Clive Heritage-Tilley). According to Henry S. Snelling the leaves of the laurel, common cabbage, and the grasses, are found sufficiently sensitive. I have also tried Goldenseal and Echinacea but results were not encouraging.
The most important thing to remember is that many, many species of flowers have never been exploredCrush the petals in a pestle and mortar to a fine pulp and add a little distilled water as you go. The purest water you can find is recommended since any impurities will interfere with the delicate light sensitive properties of the emulsion. Filter the juices through a cheese cloth or clean linen to remove small plant bits and some impurities.

2.Using a clean simple brush coat any paper you like (hand-made Paper being an extra nice touch) in nice even strokes vertically and horizontally leaving no pools of emulsion on the surface.

3.Dry the paper in the dark over-night or with a hand dryer on low heat.

4. Contact print any media or plant in a printing frame or clip frame. Expose in full sunlight over 1-3 days or more depending on your aesthetic. Done. The print can be kept in subdued or artificial light although exposure to direct sunlight is discouraged.
A method of fixing Anthotypes is not known and perhaps not necessary despite obvious limitations.

Working notes:

Denatured alcohol or even lighter fluid can be used instead of Distilled and/or de-mineralized water.

Keep the emulsion fairly thick (i.e. less water/alcohol) for darker images or add more distilled water for a lighter image. In the case of red poppies a thicker emulsion yields a light brown image while a thinner emulsion looks more light purple. You can blend your emulsion to get the thickness your prefer as you go along.

Store your emulsion in a dark bottle away from sunlight. It should keep for some time but re-filtration through a sieve is a good idea before coating if the emulsion has not been used. I have used stored older emulsions for months after and it was fine.

The emulsion on paper which is fully exposed to sunlight will slowly fade to near white or faint yellow as its colour is destroyed by the suns rays.

Since exposures must take place in full sunlight the movement of the sun will naturally create a slight shadowing effect unless the whatever media is in very tight contact with the glass.

Will a light-box work? I suppose if the light source is full spectrum and sufficiently bright, then maybe. However, a popular maxim for alternative photography states; “There’s no substitute for the sun”. This I believe certainly applies here.

Larger negatives/stencils/acetates seem better suited for this process. I found smaller negs not to yield enough detail.

Note a ‘negative’ can be made by paper -just print a strongly contrasting picture -you can use this or produce the negative using photoshop etc.

Other things to try out:

  • Double coating paper
  • Anthotypes on cloth (cyanotypes work well on cloth bt exposure is shorter and colour more dominant)
  • Mixing in pigments from oil paints
  • Printing on coloured paper stock
  • Printing 4×5 colour negs/slide film

Other flower suggestions:

Henry H. Snelling writes based on his research:“Viola Odorata – or sweet scented violet, yields to alcohol a rich blue color, which it imparts in high perfection to paper. Senecio Splendens – or double purple groundsel, yields a beautiful color to paper”.

From forums apart from alternative photography, you can get a range of interesting tips:
Fromm Akki14

I wouldn’t really bother with anthotypes if you want any sort of detail. I’ve not been very successful as far as good resolution of images. You can make out something’s there and it vaguely resembles the negative but you don’t get detail.
The first anthotype (portrait format) is done with purple iris petals, the second (landscape format) is done with raw red cabbage. I prefer my cyanotypes where I can see results a little faster and actually get quite fine detail.
(Heather used two coats and exposed for 3 days)

Check out Nicky Thompson’s site

Nicky has managed to match the image with the colour of the sensitizer (onion,blackberry etc)


Those interested will want to experiment -but as starting points -the following have been successful:

lily of the valley (‘short’ exposure time)blueberries, coffee grinds, red chilis, beet and spinach.